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CCSD HUNCH team headed to Johnson Space Center to compete for top honors

CCSD NASA HUNCH students compete in March.A team of Cherry Creek School District students will travel to Houston this week to present their original cuisine to a team of astronauts, engineers and world-famous chefs.

The district’s NASA Culinary HUNCH Team has been working hard all year to design, prepare and execute high-quality, nutritious dishes designed for a specific purpose: to create food fit for astronauts on board the International Space Station. After winning the preliminary competition against other Colorado teams last month, the CCSD team of six students is headed to the Johnson Space Center in Texas to compete against nine other groups from across the country.

The students’ menu – which includes a chimichurri chicken salad with fresh vegetables and lentils as an entrée; winter vegetable curried fritters as a side; and a “better-for-you” Greek yogurt banana split with frozen raspberry bombs and bananas brulées as a dessert – will go up against entries from teams based in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Wyoming, Alabama, New York, Michigan, Maryland, Florida and Virginia. A team of astronauts, engineers and even winning chefs from the popular TV show “MasterChef” will judge the entries.

“The expectations were really high,” said Mary Anderson, the director of NASA HUNCH culinary program for Cherry Creek Schools. “They worked really hard for this, and spent a lot of time in the kitchen preparing. They had to develop an entire meal to squeeze into really strict nutritional guidelines. That was the hardest thing for the students to do.

“I’m not surprised they made it to the national finals,” Anderson added. “They developed an amazing product.”

This year was especially meaningful for Anderson and her students, as it was the first year the competition returned in full force following cancellations and limitations imposed by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

“Two of my students who are on the team this year have been on my team for the past couple of years. They’ve muscled through it, knowing that Houston wasn’t going to be an option. This year was different,” Anderson said. “They’re really starting to understand that and it’s all coming to fruition. I think their trust in the program is paramount to their success.”

The CCSD team also includes newcomers to the HUNCH program, which stands for High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware. Students from Grandview High School, Eaglecrest High School and even an eighth-grader from Thunder Ridge Middle School have worked together to win a spot in the top ten.

Eaglecrest freshman Ian Nelson said working on the team has offered him an entry into the culinary world, as well as new perspectives on a subject he’s always loved: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM).

“I can’t say that I’ve cooked much before I started in HUNCH, but I think that this program has really helped get me into cooking,” Nelson said before the formal kickoff of the HUNCH cooking contest held at Grandview High School in March. “Honestly, I’ve always loved astronomy in general, so being able to cook for people who are going to space is something wonderful. It’s very interesting.”

Nelson and his peers will have plenty of chances to see STEAM come to life during the trip to Houston. While they’re not participating in the culinary competition, the students will have access to the cutting-edge technology and experienced experts centered at the Space Center. They’ll meet with astronauts, visit the Johnson Space Center Food Lab, hobnob with the center’s culinary engineer and even add their signatures to a storage locker that will travel to the International Space Station in the next few months.

If they win the ultimate prize, the CCSD team’s original menu will be served to astronauts in the health stabilization program, a kind of quarantine designed as a preparation for space flight. In the past, the contest has stressed food that can survive a micro-gravity environment; this year, the emphasis was on nutrition: student learned how to incorporate one macro ingredient without affecting others. The winning team’s food will eventually travel to the International Space Station.

Such real-world, applicable scientific work, all conducted outside the boundaries of their normal class load, has already offered the CCSD students a new perspective on how STEAM works outside the classroom, Anderson said.

“This drives home the accessibility of the space program and their STEAM education at such a young age,” she said. “I received a message from one of the parents, thanking me for reigniting her daughter’s interest in the STEAM program.”

The trip to Houston and the competition against nine of the country’s top high-school teams will only add to that enthusiasm and depth of learning, Anderson. These aspiring scientists, chefs and scholars are ready for the challenge.

Congratulations to the CCSD NASA Culinary HUNCH team!

Elijah King - Thunder Ridge Middle School

David Britt - Grandview High School

Delaney Hartman – Eaglecrest High School

Ian Nelson - Eaglecrest High School

Noah Ott - Eaglecrest High School

Miles Reish - Eaglecrest High School

Abem Shimanga - Eaglecrest High School

- Posted 4/12/22 at 10:30 AM